It appears that the economy has caught up with the lighting industry. It's not that lighting designers and manufacturers were unaware of the global economic slowdown this past fall or weren't starting to feel a few of its effects. Rather, the lighting community was in constant demand at the end of 2008, still working through a project cycle that kept everyone extremely busy. But with the start of the new year, despite widespread hope that the calendar change somehow would wash the slate clean, the economy remains as turbulent as ever. There is no doubt 2009 will be just as rocky. In the first full week of January alone, I have heard an enormous amount of concern voiced by lighting designers and manufacturers as they try to get a read on the economic landscape. They're asking questions like, “Are projects being canceled or delayed?” and “Have you heard of anyone having to reduce staff?”
Such concerns are real. The lighting community has grown substantially since the recessions of the early 1980s and 1990s, and the current state of affairs invites a comparison: Are lighting designers and manufacturers drawing from their past experiences and perspectives as a guide to present conditions? The architecture community, for its part, has developed a series of tools that architects and other design professionals can use. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) initiated its Architecture Billings Index in response to the 1990s recession; it is a gauge that all of the lighting designers and manufacturers whom I have spoken with cite as a key reference as they plan for future project work cycles. More recently, in the face of the present economic troubles, the AIA has set up a section on its website devoted solely to navigating today's economy. The resource can be found at aia.org/navigatingeconomy.
Lighting organizations in their own way are trying to get a read on the economy and gather data. The International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) has sent a 10-question economic impact survey to its membership, asking firms how they are being affected by the economy, whether they have had to make cutbacks, and what kind of growth they anticipate in 2009. According to Marsha Turner, executive director of the IALD, the results will be released in February. The IALD survey is a good first step, but the downturn suggests an opportunity for the lighting community to create an ongoing set of economic indicators that respond to the specifics of lighting practice. Tools such as these will always be of use, recession or not.
ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING has had the economy on its mind since summer 2008, when the mortgage crisis emerged. For the past six months I have been taking the industry's pulse through talks with key members of the lighting community. These discussions are synthesized in the report, “The Road Ahead,” on page 19. It is the first of what will be several related conversations throughout the year that will assess the issues at stake for the industry.
You'll also notice, as you flip through the pages of this issue, that we have economized in another sense—through the magazine's layout. In our continued efforts to evolve editorially, we have reorganized the publication's internal structure into new sections—a series of departments, followed by features. The reorganization enables us to present more editorial content in the front pages of the magazine, expand our product coverage, and offer two new article types: Critique and One-on-One. The Industry Exchange now appears online.
Despite the uneasy feeling present conditions leave us with—like a cross between Sisyphus and Godot: rolling, rolling, rolling … waiting, waiting, waiting—I am confident that the lighting community can withstand the current economic pressures. There is no doubt the downturn will take its toll on companies and individuals. Still, I think the lighting industry is well suited to adjust. In the way that designers borrow and adapt techniques and fixtures from one application to another (as the features in this issue demonstrate, through the crossover between theatrical and architectural lighting), flexibility is key. Manufacturers, for their part, have the opportunity to focus on research and development and to advance energy-efficient luminaires.
Perhaps the greatest challenge of these times also is the lighting community's greatest opportunity—to craft an agenda and speak with a cohesive voice. There are many threads of dialogue within lighting arenas, but more often than not these discussions remain internal. With a new president who already has voiced great interest in energy-efficiency issues, particularly when it comes to public buildings and infrastructure, the lighting community needs a consistent message. At a time when many things seem out of our control, this is one item—a united and purposeful voice—over which we do have command. The key now is to determine what message the lighting community wants to put forth and how to articulate it. Let the work begin.